Advantages Central location; pleasant ambience; hearty food
Disadvantages Little for veggies; not especially friendly
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Finding a good restaurant in Zagreb is not difficult; the only problem is choosing just one. Of course, if you are staying for several days your task is made easier but we recently stayed in the Croatian capital for just one night so we wanted to choose well.After a little deliberation over a couple of glasses of beer from a local microbrewery, we decided on Stari Fijaker, a traditional Croatian restaurant housed in what is reputedly one of Zagreb’s oldest ‘beer halls’ – or so the Zagreb In Your Pocket brochure claimed. In fact this was much more of an inn and less beer hall; all of the customers were dining and if this really was a beer hall, I’d have expected more people to be only drinking. Perhaps the description lost something in translation?
It’s in the lower town, a stone’s throw from the lower station of the funicular and two minutes walk from the main square, Trg Ban Jelacic and the famous Dolac Market. If you’re staying further out of town, there are tram stops close by. There are a couple of shallow steps into the restaurant and one shallow one from the bar area to the dining area; when we arrived a wheelchair using gentleman was being helped down the steps by his friend who made light work of the steps though a member of staff was standing by to assist too if required.The interior is cosy and quaint without being twee; they’ve tried to evoke the idea of a traditional inn which works well with the low ceilings and arched entrances to the various dining areas. The renovations are very new and some parts and some areas have more character than others. The quirkiness of the shape of the room means that there are plenty of tables but there is still some privacy and the high backed settles on either side of some of the tables also break up the room into friendly, cosier spaces. Red and white embroidered cloths and folksy walls hangings contribute to the image of a traditional restaurant even if that impression is spoiled a little by glass fronted soft drinks company-sponsored refrigerators, still the beer needs to be chilled…
Here and there, suspended from the ceiling, are little black carriages made from wrought iron – fijaker, or ‘fiacres’ as they are known in English (using the French name). I must have been having a dim moment because I had seen the name of the restaurant and said it aloud several times but it wasn’t until we were inside and saw the little carriages that I understood the restaurant’s name. Anyway, it means “The Old Fiacre” (which I am certain will be deliberately misheard in some quarters).The menu here focuses on Zagreb-Zagorje; Zagorje is a region of northern Croatia close to the border with Slovenia (there’s also a town in Slovenia of the same name and that’s not in border country). With the region being inland and predominantly rural, the menu is meat heavy and rather traditional. If I’m honest, there’s not a great deal here to appeal to vegetarians; there are cheese struckli - dumplings drowned in a cheesy sauce (for want of a better description) - but they do tend to get a bit heavy before you get even halfway through the portion and if you’ve eaten in other Croatian restaurants, you’re bound to have had them already.
The menu features things like ‘slavonski cobanac’, a spicy stew which contains three different types of meat. It also includes Zagrebacki odrezak, which is a bashed out pork fillet, rolled and stuffed with cheese and ham. These are dishes I’ve had before and quite enjoyed but in my experience anything stuffed with both cheese and ham is invariably too salty to finish.On this occasion I was after something simpler and I chose a pork steak with the Croatian version of a ‘hunter’s sauce’, known, of course, in various guises around Europe (‘chasseur’ in France, ‘cacciatore’ in Italy). Himself ordered the raznjici (I may be using the Serbian spelling there and apologise profusely if I have), a simple dish of pork which is skewered and cooked on the grill (if you see dishes described as ‘na zaru’ in this part of the world, you’ll know that it’s some kind of meat dish that has been cooked on the grill) and we shared a mixed salad which in this part of the world is brought to the table well before the main courses arrive rather than with them.
We ordered beers (well a beer for Himself and a ‘Radler’ for me, grapefruit flavour, of course, which seems to be everyone’s favourite flavour) though, this being Croatia, you can order very decent wines for modest prices if that’s what you prefer. Soft drinks are available, of course, but generally you’ll find very few that aren’t teeming with sugar and even so-called juices are often incredibly sweet.The food is filling and hearty; it's tasty but I don't think you'd walk out saying "My word, that was delicious!". My pork was tender and juicy and the sauce it was smothered in was rich and flavoursome but perhaps a tiny bit too salty. It was packed with juicy little mushrooms. My pork steak was served with a generous helping of 'njoki' which were not quite as light as they could have been but they were good for making sure no sauce was left on the plate.
The raznjici were presented very simply and compared to the same dish in other restaurants, it was a bit disappointing in that respect. However, the pieces of pork were large and tender and really cooked to perfection. These were sevred with slices of roasted potato. The dish was OK but lacked something like a sauce or relish.The salad was nothing spectacular but how lovely it was to eat lovely sweet, red tomatoes instead of those terrible insipid Dutch things that are sold everywhere in the UK. I do think the British have become so disinterested in food they'll accept any old rubbish.
The service was prompt but I couldn't really describe it as friendly. If it had been busier I might have forgiven this but it was fairly quiet when we visited. The menu is in Croatian and German but staff do speak English and I'm sure would (be happy - or maybe not) to translate.The bill came to something in the region of £20 which is reasonable for a European capital city, and included mains,.salad and drinks.
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